In 2012, I read three books that changed my life: Crucial Conversations, Sacred Spaces and Eat that Frog. These books deal with areas I’m continually working to improve: establishing peace and comfort in my home, getting organized in my work and improving my communication with others. These goals are not unique to me; almost everyone has one or more of these goals on their radar. With this in mind, I would like to share the lessons I walked away with after sitting with at least one of these books: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High.
We have crucial conversations every day – many of which we handle badly. These failed dialogues are ruining our relationships. By learning how to have effective dialogue, we can come to decisions that everyone agrees with and our ability to influence others increases.
The authors define a crucial conversation as a discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong. When we face crucial conversations, we can do one of three things: We can avoid them, face them and handle them poorly, or face them and handle them well.
So what leads to the majority of the bad conversations we have?
We often hold things inside by going silent until we can take it no longer—and then we explode like a bomb. In short, we move between silence and violence—we either don’t handle the conversation at all, or we don’t handle it well. We may not become physically violent, but we do attack others’ ideas and feelings. The authors cover tactics that will help us become skilled at dialogue when it matters the most. Here I will focus on two of the tactics.
- When going into a crucial conversation focus on what you really want. Beginning high-risk discussions with the right motives will keep you focused on your goal. No matter what direction the conversation goes in, you must ask (1) What do I really want for myself, (2) what do I really want for others?, and (3) what do I really want for the relationship. Once you’ve asked yourself what you want you must then ask: How would I behave if I really wanted these results. The next time you’re having a crucial conversation, instead of striving to look good, win an argument/discussion, or achieve some other unhealthy objective, keep your eye on the goal.
- Don’t tell stories. We’ve all done it. Someone acts, then we react – making assumptions along the way. “My coworker sets up private meetings with the boss to discuss projects we’re working on – I know she’s trying to outshine me and make me look bad.” “My boss doesn’t keep me informed about important information or about projects he’s working on. He obviously doesn’t value my opinion or contributions to the team.” “My spouse has been distant lately – she must be bored with the relationship.” When we become upset, our most common reaction is to defend ourselves and place the blame on someone else. As convenient as it is to blame others for pushing our buttons and causing us to become upset, it’s not exactly true. The key to how we feel lies in the stories we tell. These stories consist of our guess as to why people do what they do.
What we leave out of the story is our contribution to the situation – what did we do to help cause this problem, or what did we not do to help stop this problem? Those are the questions we have to ask ourselves.
The good news is I now try to interact with others with an end goal in mind: (1) What do I really want for myself, (2) what do I really want for others?, and (3) what do I really want for the relationship. The bad news, though, is I now recognize stories that me and others tell and because of that, conversations just aren’t the same.